July 8th, 2012 by Gary Smith
As the late Rodney King exclaimed, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a blog post about how infighting is the scourge of the animal rights movement and that animals are dying because of our disagreements. Rather, I believe that a healthy debate can and will move us towards more effective strategies and tactics.
There is nothing wrong with a healthy debate. What I don’t appreciate is the vitriol and name-calling in these discussions. Nothing will be accomplished if all we do is dig our heels in and go into attack mode.
Welfarists like to paint abolitionists as unrealistic and often say that abolitionists truly want to see animals continue to suffer because somehow, this will bring about animal liberation sooner. Not only is this a naïve assessment, it’s not even accurate. Abolitionists want better treatment of animals, just not at the expense of the bigger picture, which is that there is no humane way to use and eat animals. Abolitionists feel like campaigns that support a humane treatment message set back the movement’s goal of animal liberation.
Abolitionists like to paint welfarists as cynics who want to keep animal exploitation alive so their campaigns bring in money, keep people who work for animal protection groups employed, and occasionally yell “victory.” This in itself is a cynical belief, and an unfair characterization. Welfarists believe that since we will not see animal liberation any time soon, we should work towards better treatment in the meantime. They believe that they can simultaneously work for better treatment while advocating for liberation.
Both are right and both are wrong. There’s no magical argument or strategy that is going to bring about animal liberation tomorrow. If there were, the world would be vegan.
Again, I don’t pretend that everyone in this movement is going to agree to the same strategies, philosophies and tactics. Nor should they: I don’t think that would be healthy. Differences are what will spur discussions (ideally). I don’t think we need to be holding hands and signing kumbaya, which is also unrealistic.
What I do think we need is a modicum of respect. We need to learn how to have these discussions like adults, like team members. There are very few of us advocating for the end of animal exploitation. We need to have these philosophical, strategic and tactical discussions in a manner where both sides don’t feel like they need to win at the expense of the other side.
We need to step back and figure out how to best serve the cause. I think we can at least start by having respectful discussions, which shouldn’t be regarded as “infighting.” (Pay attention the next time someone accuses you of infighting, because there’s a good chance they’ve been the aggressor in the conversation.)
Aside from these conversations being more about “winning” than exchanging ideas, we regress to playground-level personal attacks. We’re all very passionate, but insulting each other gets us nowhere, nor do I recommend feeling insulted when someone merely disagrees with our positions. There are a few high-profile bullies, to be sure. But it’s also unproductive to feel bullied when it isn’t happening.
We also need to stop positioning the issues as either/or, black/white, “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.” Too often I see people state that if someone doesn’t agree with their premise, they want to harm animals. If they don’t support a tactic, they reject it as “violent,” or they use the language of the oppressors against their fellow activists. Non-vegans want to categorize vegans as either hypocrites or extremists; we need to stop doing that to each other.
This site was intended to create a space for these kinds of rational and philosophical conversations to take place. The vast majority of the comments on this blog are respectful, and very rarely does someone take the conversation into an unproductive direction or a personal attack (occasionally we do delete comments that are overly antagonistic).
As anyone who reads this blog for more than a minute knows, I believe that the ethical argument for veganism – that is, the animal rights message – is the most rhetorically, logically, and morally sound approach for our outreach. That is my belief. We can disagree. But let’s do it respectfully.